Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Introduction: Exploring History in Australian and Canadian Literature through Dramatic Modes
- Chapter 1: Melodrama in Thomas Keneally’s The Playmaker and in David Musgrave’s Glissando
- Chapter 2: Performing Identity in Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen
- Chapter 3: Performing the Nation in Peter Carey’s Illywhacker
- Chapter 4: Dramatic Modes and the Feminist Poetics of Enactment in Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic
- Chapter 5: Performing History, Violence, and the Unsayable in Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish
- Chapter 6: Filmic and Dramatic Modes in Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy
- Conclusion: Taking It Further: Novels that Perform History Inside and Beyond Australian and Canadian Contexts
- Series index
My deep thanks go to my family and friends across the globe who have been such wonderful sources of support and encouragement. Thank you, first, and a thousand times to my mother, Linda Waese, and to my father, Stan Waese, who have believed in me since the beginning and made every effort to help me achieve my goals. I am grateful for the love and support of my grandmother, Estelle Kuchar; my incredible siblings, Jessica Shifman and Adam Waese; and my siblings-in-law, Jessie Gibson, Kate Gibson, Jolene Waese, Alan Shifman, Matt Dri, Steve Balmforth, Andrew Stevens, and Katrina Lacey, for your encouragement, warmth, humour, and wisdom. Thank you to Robyn and Den Gibson for your loving support and giving my kids ‘Grandma and Pa’ time when I needed to write. The final stretch of nitpicking by the family will always be appreciated. Thank you to Wayne Stevens and Irene Gibson.
Thank you to my mentors, Terry Goldie, Linda Hutcheon, and Sue Thomas for your professional guidance and long-standing championing of my work. I am grateful for the support of the Disciplinary Research Program in Drama, Theatre, and English from La Trobe University. Versions of previously published articles appear with permission: ‘Dramatic Modes and the Feminist Poetics of Enactment in Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic’ from Studies in Canadian Literature and ‘Film and Drama in Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy’ from Journal of American Studies of Turkey. Thank you to Suzi Hayes and Nicholas Cowley for research assistance, Caryn Rae Adams for copy-editing, and fellow Canadian-Australian, Carmel Debreuil, for the use of the Red Land Warrior, for the cover art. Many thanks to colleagues from La Trobe University who have offered advice and friendship: Sue Martin, Alison Ravenscroft, Paul Salzman, Alexis Harley, Catherine Padmore, Kelly Gardiner, Claire Knowles, Anneli Bjorasen, and a special mention to Rob Conkie for your support and encouragement. Thank you to my friends who have helped in so many ways, and, particularly, to Sarina Sherlock, Andrea Ditoro, Kate East, Mina Jane, Chris ← vii | viii → Benz, Maha Sidaoui, Adrienne Guthrie, Janna Press, Dayna Simon, Mandy Thomson, Sarah Henstra, Sharyn Myer, and my Torquay family. I would like to thank some of my most inspirational teachers: Marilyn Eisenstat, Stan Dragland, Jim Schaefer, Charlie Tomlinson, Lawrence Garber, Susan Popplewell, Paul Comeau, Douglas Kneale, and Lisa Zeitz. Thank you to Bev Richardson who first inspired me to pursue writing when I was seven.
My deepest thanks go to my family, Mark, Zach, and Ivy Stevens, who have given me love, inspiration, and pure joy. Zach, you have a happy, loving spirit and soul and an incredible intellect. You’ve helped me with two-square ball breaks in the backyard, awesome hugs, and delicious tea. Ivy, you are funny, kind, and wise far beyond your years. I thank you for the love and the advice you gave me when you were four: ‘Just do your best, Mum. That’s all you can do.’ To Mark, my husband and loving partner, thank you so much for helping me through this journey. You have been here every step of the way with patience, generosity, encouragement, vision, and wise strategic advice to help me achieve this goal. I look back to when I felt like the beetle climbing up the mountain backwards in Cosmos, and, at last, with your love and support, we’ve reached the top of this one. Thank you with all my heart.
This book presents new scholarship on how Australian and Canadian writers use dramatic modes to represent, engage with, and interrogate history and historiography in a selection of novels published between 1985 and 2010. Dramatic modes in fiction about the past often heighten perceptions of immediacy and sensory awareness by creating a sense of immersion or embodiment in a particular historical scene. Alternatively, dramatic modes may establish reflexive and critical distances between readers and constructions of history in ways that break through familiar forms and patterns of narrative expression to highlight the illusory nature of representation and create sites of resistance, decolonization, and inquiry. Some novels use dramatic modes that alternate between providing readers with sensations of immersion and estrangement, thereby continually re-positioning readers as they examine how they accept or resist nationalistic and hegemonic representations of history in fiction.
When Novels Perform History examines various dramatic modes which bring the body and a sense of the reader’s presence and engagement to the fore in the novels discussed, as well as performative ways of writing about history. Its methodology combines a close analysis of text and form, performance and postcolonial theory and reflection on strategies used to engage readers. Through a close examination of selected texts, the book points to ways in which dramatic modes in fiction can direct attention to aspects of history that are not often recorded, explore subjective and physical experiences of characters responding within historical contexts, and prompt inquiry into how these stories can be represented effectively and evocatively. A number of novels that utilize dramatic modes engender what Ross Gibson calls a ‘palpable’ sense of an encounter with events or ← 1 | 2 → characters constructed from the past, which gives an affective reaction so potent that it can be felt in the body, potentially answering Gibson’s call for ‘new cultural forms [in which] to think about tendencies of history’ and the need to create historiographies that engage readers through the senses.1 Dramatic modes are well suited to Australian and Canadian novels where characters rehearse and perform newly established roles in settler/invader contexts, and the comparative structure of the book, alternating between Australian and Canadian texts, considers the respective histories of both countries, which, among significant differences, share a history of British colonization, the dispossession and unconstitutional mistreatment of indigenous peoples, and the emergence of multicultural populations.
While there have been a few other comparisons of the literature and culture of these two countries,2 this study extends the comparative approach beyond these books to explore the performative and theatrical aspects of selected novels from these countries and identify a range of techniques that are used to convey a compelling and evocative sense of postcolonial history within them. Despite theoretical groundwork on performativity in postcolonial theatre by Joanne Tompkins, Helen Gilbert, and Gary Boire,3 there has been surprisingly little analysis of dramatic modes in Australian and Canadian fiction about history even as the field has grown in recent years. ← 2 | 3 → 4 Graham Huggan examines dramatic modes in three postcolonial novels that perform history in The Post-Colonial Exotic on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, and Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, in which he posits that performativity might usefully become ‘a central concept for understanding colonial strategies of physical oppression and postcolonial identity formation’.5 There have been some publications on theatricality in nineteenth-century English novels6 and performativity in Indian and Caribbean novels which will be considered in the concluding chapter that looks beyond Australian and Canadian contexts at two other evocative applications of dramatic modes in novels about history.7 When Novels Perform History explores a range of dramatic modes, including metatheatre, melodrama, and narrative strategies that alternately immerse readers in or estrange readers from representations of Australian and Canadian history in fiction to increase an understanding of how postcolonial identities are constructed and how new roles and formulations of power are rehearsed in settler-invader contexts.
Each of the six chapters in this book is arranged thematically around specific dramatic and performative modes that are used to explore history and historiography in Australian and Canadian fiction for various strategic aims. In each of the selected novels, there are mediated experiences of theatre and performative explorations for readers. In some novels, representations of contemporary melodrama convey affect, reflexivity, and nostalgia; in others, dramatic techniques such as those developed by ← 3 | 4 → Constantin Stanislavski,8 for example, draw a reader into an understanding of a character’s inner desires and motivations. Some novels use versions of estrangement techniques, such as those developed by Bertolt Brecht, to create reflexive moments in fiction which are designed to position readers to interpret critically rather than to experience an emotional release.9 Plays-within-novels provide critical distance that results in alternate and counter-hegemonic views of history that can illuminate the shortcomings of certain representational modes. Dramatic modes may prompt readers to envision historical possibilities through imaginative speculation or to perceive incomprehensible violence through familiar structures from the theatre. Rather than establishing a single dramatic mode, this book explores a range of the uses of dramatic modes in contemporary Australian and Canadian historically based fiction. Each dramatic mode is analysed through a close examination of a primary text (or two), and delivers an analysis of performative writing and postcolonial and historiographic theory. The novels in question demonstrate ways in which dramatic and performative modes contribute to new understandings of power relations, postcolonial identities, and how history in fiction is constructed over a twenty-five-year period to resonate with, engage, and challenge contemporary readers. The Australian novels discussed include Thomas Keneally’s The Playmaker (1987),10 David Musgrave’s Glissando: A Melodrama (2010),11 Peter Carey’s Illywhacker (1985)12 and Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish (2001).13 The novels from Canada include Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998),14 Daphne Marlatt’s Ana ← 4 | 5 → Historic (1988),15 and Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman’s Boy (1996).16 Observations on Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014)17 and Daphne Marlatt’s The Gull: The Steveston Noh Project (2009)18 extend the scope of the relevant chapters in which they appear.
All of the Australian and Canadian authors whose novels feature prominently in this book are prolific in more than one genre, collectively spanning poetry, stage plays, screenplays, short stories, novels, children’s books, and opera; this speaks to the authors’ varied interests in and proclivities toward creative expression through interdisciplinary means. Conceivably, the authors’ expertise of working in other performative genres enriches these genre-crossing novels that merge performance and history in literature and each author has won major prizes for his or her respective work. Richard Flanagan, novelist, historian, and Tasmanian environmental activist, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Gould’s Book of Fish (2001), the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014), and was the director and scriptwriter of the film adaptation of his novel The Sound of One Hand Clapping (2008). Thomas Keneally, born in Sydney and well known for his prolific and popular historical fiction, won the Booker Prize for Schindler’s Ark (1982), the Order of Australia (1983), and is also a playwright. David Musgrave, a Sydney-based poet, critic, founder of an independent press, and novelist of Glissando (2010) has won many poetry prizes including the Newcastle Poetry prize. Peter Carey, from Bacchus Marsh, Australia and now a New York resident, has twice won the Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda (1988) and True History of the Kelly Gang (2001). Carey has written short stories, screenplays, and was awarded the Order of Australia (2012). Tomson Highway, a Cree Canadian playwright, musician, librettist, and novelist won the Governor-General’s award in 1989 for ← 5 | 6 → his play, Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing and has written children’s books in English and Cree. Guy Vanderhaeghe, Saskatchewan-born, best known for his trilogy of novels set in the American and Canadian West, has also written plays and screenplays and won the Booker Prize in 1996 for The Englishman’s Boy and Governor General Awards for his fiction (1982, 1996, and 2015). Daphne Marlatt, a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and feminist critic, born in Melbourne, Australia and raised in British Columbia, Canada, won the Order of Canada in 2006 and the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement award in 2012 for her founding work on literary journals TISH and tessera and her writing defined by its feminist, lesbian, and postcolonial poetics.
The novels under discussion – only one of which is written by a woman and only one by an indigenous author – are not in and of themselves representative of the vast scope of Australian and Canadian literature, but, rather, exemplify the use of dramatic modes that expand the possibilities for the writing of history and historiography in fiction in the two countries.19 The theoretical implications of the book’s findings are not limited to the focus texts within it; the book’s central premise of how novels perform history can be extended beyond Australian and Canadian novels to other nations and the concluding chapter therefore invites readers to consider the dramatic modes that can also be seen to be operating within Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) and Wilson Harris’ The Infinite Rehearsal (1987).
The central concern of this book, however, is the dramatization in fiction of those aspects of the postcolonial condition that are common to Australia and Canada. In Decolonising Fictions, Diana Brydon and Helen Tiffin observe the similarities between the postcolonial conditions of Australia and Canada, two countries where ‘English language and culture were transported […] to […] foreign territor[ies] where the indigenous inhabitants were either annihilated or marginalized’.20 Alan Lawson describes the shared ‘position of ambi/valence’ of non-indigenous writers in ‘Second World’ countries, such as Australia and Canada, who experience ← 6 | 7 → a doubleness in their perspective and emplacement as they look backwards to countries of origin while perceiving the land in which they live.21 These ‘Second World’ countries have in common what George Manuel and Michael Posluns, in The Fourth World: An Indian Reality, call the ‘Fourth World’, referring to indigenous populations, and indigenous writers in these countries have different stories and viewpoints than writers who have come to inhabit these lands. Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen will be considered closely in Chapter 2 in a specific study of performative strategies arising from Cree and Western traditions. Before outlining the chapters, the introduction provides an examination of the origins of this performative and historical fiction genre, with its roots in the height of postmodernism and postcolonialism in the mid-1980s. It examines current debates underlying the subjective expression of history in performative fiction between historical evidence and fictional liberties designed to create affective responses in the reader and study the emergence of the ‘performative turn’ in history and the humanities. It introduces the theorists whose writing on dramatic and performative modes and reflexivity can be usefully connected with novels that engage with history, including Joanne Tompkins, Greg Dening, Richard Hornby, Bertolt Brecht, Constantin Stanislavski, and Peter Brook and shows, in a summary of chapters, where their theories are applied to examine aspects of performative history novels.
The Emergence of Dramatic Modes in Australian and Canadian Historical Novels
The significant emergence of Australian and Canadian novels that invoke a dramatic mode to represent and engage with history can be traced to the mid-1980s when postmodernism and postcolonialism were the defining ← 7 | 8 → cultural discourses of the day. Linda Hutcheon’s ‘Canadian Historiographic Metafiction’ (1984) identified a major shift in the narrative forms of many historical novels which moved from early realist accounts to more self-reflexive narratives, reflecting changes in the ways Canadian writers understood themselves and their histories and examining ways in which they perceived they belonged or did not belong to their nation.22 Hutcheon contrasts early Canadian nineteenth-century realist historical novels that were constructed with imported European forms and aesthetics with Canadian historiographic metafictions written by Ruby Wiebe, Timothy Findley, George Bowering, and other novels from the 1970s and 1980s that explored the authors’ understandings of the ‘mimetic connection between art and life’; these later novels highlighted the processes of constructing historical narratives and the decision-making involved with the production of national historical narratives in fiction.23 Hutcheon draws on the thinking of Roland Barthes to demonstrate how historiographic metafictions foster relationships between writers and readers, who engage in creating historical interpretations that become meaningful and resonant through collaborative processes. From the 1980s onward, as governments in Canada and Australia were beginning to legislate historical advances for women, minorities, and indigenous peoples – the legalization of abortion with the Morgentaler decision in Canada (1988), the Canadian Multicultural Act (1988), the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in Australia (1983), and the Mabo decision in Australia (1992) – a growing number of writers began incorporating dramatic modes and theatrical strategies in novels that engaged with history, which allowed for multiple perspectives and voices, and for national narratives that were counter-discursive to earlier models.
In novels that engage with dramatic modes to explore history, hallmark traits of postmodernism including self-reflexivity and irony are prominent and lead readers to interrogate and deconstruct the grand narratives often associated with traditional perceptions of history, such as notions of a nation’s ‘progress’ and ‘destiny’. Such performative texts provide alternatives ← 8 | 9 → to more conventionally constructed historical novels, which, as Pierre Nora writes in Memory and History, arise from a long-standing tradition of writing history as ‘the reconstitution of a past without lacunae or faults’.24 In The Canadian Postmodern, Hutcheon introduced the term ‘historiographic metafiction’ in her identification of fiction that shows a heightened awareness of the process and complexities of writing history as it produces reflexive art.25 Hutcheon’s writing on historiographic metafiction informs this book to some degree, as each of the focal novels, drawn from postcolonial contexts, combines in some way notions of historiographic reflexivity within dramatic and theatrical modes, and many of them feature parody and irony to challenge authoritative versions of history. Other contemporary views of historiography are examined, including Frederic Jameson’s assertion that it is a sign of the late capitalist times in postmodern society that the only historical representations we can have of the past are mediated through ‘our own pop images and stereotypes’ and are shot through with nostalgia; in the end, Jameson suggests, we are bound to live ‘in a perpetual present where the past is only accessible through a nostalgic gaze that reveals more about our own time than about the history being represented’.26 Jameson’s view highlights the nature of the challenges that face novelists who attempt to access the past through performative modes in fiction with the inevitable blurring of past and present that representative modes bring, along with the common desire of writers to acknowledge the limitations of representation. Wolfgang Iser’s theory in The Play of the Text, where the text is perceived as an arena for transformative play and the reader has an active role in making meaning,27 can be usefully applied to performative novels that revisit history, as Iser emphasizes the idea that ← 9 | 10 → a text does not deliver any singular or static view of the past but invites a reader into an ‘ongoing event’ of deciphering and interpretation.28
One of the most significant concerns of authors who re-work historical material into literary representations of history is the need to address the complex negotiation between historical evidence and fictional liberties. Some writers create texts that, as Herb Wyile describes, focus on emotional truths that arise from historical experiences rather than representations that depict ‘the letter of the record’ derived from historical sources.29 Ross Gibson takes this view further, into the body, when he advocates a call for a kind of historiography that brings about a sense of ‘felt conviction’ where the ‘perceiver gets convinced “in the bones” rather than in the portions of our sensibility that manage linguistic, textual argument’.30 These more subjective approaches to representing historiography and history in novels do not generally represent a writer’s desire to denounce existing historical evidence but rather to develop a considered crossing-over between dramatic modes and experimental ways of writing history in literature in order to create affective and embodied readings. When affective speculation is brought to bear on historical evidence and the boundaries between the two become less distinct, it can result in aesthetic forms that offer something valuable to readers and writers who long for more embodied alternatives to conventional historical fiction. Canadian writer Daphne Marlatt asks, in Ana Historic, what if speculation and imagination allow us to recover or inhabit marginalized women’s history?31 Dramatic acts of speculation and imagination extending from existing historical evidence in novels can help bridge omissions in historical records that, particularly in Australian and Canadian history, do not provide a comprehensive representation of people from minority groups in cultures where a significant portion of historical testimonial evidence is oral or contested by people in positions of power and influence. Ross Gibson clarifies why such a practice of creating ← 10 | 11 → ‘palpable history’ is so important in Australia (and this can be extended to Canada as well) when he observes that ‘conventional historiographical protocols often come up short when we try to get the fullest possible comprehension of the past that has whelped our present’.32 In Australia, he maintains, ‘we need to imagine across gaps and quandaries in the evidence; we need to venture out past the vestiges or documented ruses that have been allowed some visibility, past what is accepted as admissible for discursive conviction’.33
Subjective history-telling, in fiction and in the genre of history itself, is hotly debated and rightly so, with a view to avoiding revisionist histories with little relation to what happened in the past. J. L. Granatstein, in Who Killed Canadian History? (1998), upbraids the movement towards subjectivity in the teaching of and transcribing of history and identifies it as what he calls a ‘dumbing down’ effect caused by historians who focus on subjective and personal histories as they sacrifice the ‘macro scale’ vision to the ‘micro scale’, which Granatstein suggests erodes the ‘unifying traditional narratives of the past’ (56–7).34 While Granatstein speaks from a context of history proper, and not fiction that engages with history or historiography, the ‘unifying traditional narratives’ of the past to which he refers are inherently patriarchal, with other multiple blind spots of race, class, ethnicity, and gender, and typify an earlier realist model of Canadian history-telling. For contemporary novelists who use dramatic modes to explore history in Canada and Australia, the ‘micro’ views of women, indigenous people, and immigrants make invaluable contributions to national narratives that tell diverse stories of the past. These views work to deconstruct certain patriarchal, colonial, and racialized traditions and values that are embedded in what Granatstein calls the ‘unifying traditional narratives’. For histories that have previously gone unrecorded or are poorly preserved, the novelist’s conundrum of how to balance fictive liberties with known and unknown facts in representing an experience of history is inevitable. ← 11 | 12 →
Hayden White makes a useful distinction in Rethinking History (2005) between the way in which historical discourse is primarily concerned with what is ‘true’, while fiction about history and/or historiography is primarily concerned with conveying what is ‘real’ – which includes not just known facts but also what might be ‘possible or imaginable’.35 White writes,
[A] simply true account of the world based on what the documentary record permits one to talk about what happened in it at particular times, and places can provide knowledge of only a very small portion of what ‘reality’ consists of. However, the rest of the real, after we have said what we can assert to be true about it, would not be everything and anything we could imagine about it. The real would consist of everything that can be truthfully said about its actuality plus everything that can be truthfully said about what it could possibly be.36
White grants that historians are typically interested in what is real but suggests they are not motivated ‘by the question of the reality of the past’ as many writers who work with history in fiction are, and therein lie some of the crucial differences between the genres.37 White suggests that the literary devices in the writing of history in fiction – ‘the topoi, tropes and figures, schemata of thought, characterization, personification, emplotment’, as in the case of Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz – can make the difference between ‘a merely truthful account of an event’ and ‘an artistic treatment of a real event in [the] past which transcends the truth-reality distinction’.38 White reminds readers of Aristotle who conceived of history and poetry as potentially complementary forces that, along with philosophy, could allow humans ‘to represent, imagine and think the world in its ← 12 | 13 → totality, both actual and possible, both real and imagined, both known and only experienced’.39
White shows the close and often blurred relationship between historical narratives and drama through some historians’ use of dramatic devices in historical discourse, such as the emplotment of characters into dramatic scenes with rising and falling actions and finite closures, which indicate that components of dramatic narrative are firmly embedded within some historical accounts.40 This is evident in the kind of historical writing Paul Carter refers to as ‘imperial recording’ where action is factual, completed, and staged theatrically before the reader, as employed in A History of Australia by nineteenth-century historian Manning Clark who described historical scenes with an emphasis on theatrical re-enactment unfolding in front of readers.41 Hayden White in ‘The Historical Event’ unpacks the terms ‘event’ and ‘destiny’ that are often used in historical narratives and shows how they are ‘translated into the elements of a drama with a presumed beginning, middle, and end, a denouement, and a falling off of action after the scene of recognition (anagnorisis)’.42 White suggests that when a sequence of historical events is ‘periodized’ or ‘parsed into acts and scene’ in a text, it follows a dramatic mode that is imposed upon it, complete with recognizable teleologies which prompt readers to make sense of the story and what it endeavours to tell us about the past.43 From White’s discussion of historical narratives that incorporate drama and theatre to convey a broader sense of the totality of the past, both real and imaginable, this book will examine where dramatic conventions and components are particularly effective in fiction about history, represented in Keneally’s The Playmaker, with colonials rehearsing new societal roles on ← 13 | 14 → what they perceive to be an empty ‘stage’, in Musgrave’s Glissando, where melodramatic conventions are used to depict scenes with high emotion, and in Flanagan’s Book of Fish, where dramatic and artistic frames are used in an attempt to convey the full enactment of history, although the novel suggests that history escapes representation despite a range of aesthetic methods designed to portray it.
The ‘Performative Turn’ and Performative Writing in History and the Humanities
- VIII, 264
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2017 (October)
- Australian and Canadian historiography; dramatic modes in fiction performative writing experimental histories in fiction
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. VIII, 264 pp.